a performance dialogue

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The first book

Dorothy asked me some time ago what I thought was the first book in the library. A strange question. I found it very difficult to answer. I wasn't sure why. Then I realised that it was because my image of the library was very continuous. It was a shape without a beginning or an end. This is a universe without a boundary. You can't hit up against a deadend. I can keep on journeying through one door into the hexagon and out the opposite door. Or climb up and down between the layers of the library. But the library isn't infinite, just without a boundary. So if I keep on journeying I will eventually come back to where I started.

But as I thought a bit more about the first book and the beginning, I realised that the story of the Library Babel mirrors the two first steps we make in navigating the world around us: to count and to explore the space around us. I believe that animals are almost programmed by evolution to be mathematicians. Counting is essential for survival. To assess whether there are more of you than there are of the enemy will inform the decision to fight or fly. To assess the the nature of the space around us allows us to judge whether we are out of range of our prey or our predator. Those that can count survive. As Plato wrote across the top of the Academy: Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here.

So maybe the first book contains the numbers 1, 2, 3,... and pictures of triangles (although the books have no pictures...or do they?)

Galileo's famous quote: The universe cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.

3 comments:

Dorothy said...

The impulse to identify 'first book' came from thinking about where we begin our journey. It has to begin somewhere. But there are different ways of thinking about beginnings.

What is is that opens up the universe for us? Are we building it, or are we looking for a window/doorway into it?

If we are building then there needs to be a 'first stone'. Numbers, primary elements, shapes. (It's a really interesting question about whether the books contain pictures!) Music begins with pulse (even music which obscures the sense of pulse).

On the other hand, there may be some book, or line, that encapsulates the universe in a way that gives us a vision of it, is the key to being able to see it and navigate through.

The Library of Babel is one such text, but there are many others. I'm interested in exploring both possibilities.

Dorothy said...

It may be that this idea of finding 'the first book' is something we can capture to make a scene or a motif. Is it:

The first point or gesture: the first step, the first mark, the first sound, the first number, or;

The first composition: the first dance, the first image, the first music, the first shape, or;

The first set: collection of steps, the first set of images, the first set of kinds of rhythms (the 5 Greek Feet is one such set), the five shapes of the universe, 0 and 1.

There is a sense in which I am always looking for that 'first'/most essential/most potent... image/shape/music each time I compose.

Dorothy said...

What Marcus writes about the 'the two first steps we make in navigating the world around us' reminds me of 'gps for a known place' (Kate and me with Marina and And/Gretchen). We cottoned on to the idea of triangulation and how you could locate any place in terms of its xy co-ordinates. The six clarinet pieces that form the heart of that piece are called, when performed without the dance and visuals) 'six pieces locating the body'. The first of these repeats two notes: high fsharp and low e as markers for the height and depth of the space. These two notes are perhaps Marcus' 'two steps'.

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